Associated Press

Watch James Harden score MVP-like 48, lift Rockets past Lakers in OT

Leave a comment

HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden scored 48 points, Eric Gordon added 30 and the Houston Rockets overcame a 21-point deficit to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 138-134 in overtime Saturday night.

The Rockets trailed for most of the night and were down by 18 in the second-half. Gordon sent it to overtime with a 3-pointer, and made four free throws in the last seconds of the extra period.

Coming off 57- and 58-point games, Harden had his 19th straight game with at least 30 and he’s had 40 in 10 of the last 13. He was 14 of 30 from the field, going 8 of 19 3-pointers, and hit 12 of 15 free throws.

Brandon Ingram missed a 3 for Los Angeles before Harden hit 1 of 2 free throws to make it 132-130 with less than a minute left. Ingram tied it with a basket, and Harden again made 1 of 2 free throws to make it 133-132.

Los Angeles missed a 3 before Gordon also made just 1 of 2 free throws to leave Houston up by two with 12.6 seconds left. Kyle Kuzma lost the ball and it went out of bounds to give Houston the ball back. Gordon added four free throws after that to secure the victory.

It was the second straight overtime game for both teams after Houston lost to Brooklyn on Wednesday night and Los Angeles beat Oklahoma City on Thursday night.

Kuzma had 32 points for Los Angeles and Ingram added 21 in a game where coach Luke Walton was ejected in the third quarter.

Already without LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, the Lakers have another injury concern after Lonzo Ball sprained his left ankle in the third quarter. The team said he was taken to a hospital for X-rays because the machine at the arena was broken.

Four straight points by the Lakers stretched the lead to nine in the fourth quarter, but Harden and Gordon made consecutive 3-pointers cut it to 112-109 with about two minutes remaining.

Los Angeles made four free throws to make it 116-109 about a minute later, but Harden made two 3-pointers around a basket by Ivica Zubac to get Houston within three with about 30 seconds left.

Lance Stephenson missed a 3-pointer and Harden made two free throws to cut the lead to 118-117 with 5.7 seconds left.

Zubac made two more free throws before Gordon’s off-balance 3-pointer with 2 seconds left sent it to OT.

The Lakers built a huge lead early and were up 64-46 at halftime, with Kuzma scoring 24 points.

They were ahead by 17 with about eight minutes left in the third quarter after scoring five straight points capped by a basket from Kuzma before Houston scored the next 15 points to cut it to 74-72 three minutes later. James Ennis had five points in that stretch and P.J. Tucker capped it with a 3-pointer.

Ball was injured just before Houston’s run began. He remained on the court for a couple of minutes talking with trainer’s before he was helped to his feet where he hopped on his right foot for a few steps before being carried off the court and to the locker room by Stephenson and Michael Beasley.

Walton was ejected a couple of minutes after that when he got two technical fouls after yelling at officials during a timeout.

 

NBA Power Rankings: Warriors surge, Raptors still on top

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Golden State Warriors reminded everyone Tuesday night what they are capable of, but the top two spots still belong to the top teams in the East. They have been more consistent.

Raptors small icon 1. Raptors (33-12, last week No. 1). Things are coming together for the Raptors. They have won five in a row, the last four of those with Kyle Lowry back in the lineup returned from injury, Kawhi Leonard has moved the ball better in those five wins (26 assists), Pascal Siakam is getting more run at center, and Serge Ibaka has slipped up a few times but is still having a renaissance season playing center. Raptors fans, enjoy the journey, this may well be the best Toronto team ever, try to ignore that cloud over the team about Leonard and July. Teams like this don’t come around often. Savor it.

Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (31-12, LW 2). They had a statement win against Houston — where Brook Lopez’s defense in the paint was the surprising key (after they overplayed Harden and forced him right and into Lopez) — and while the Bucks then turned around and lost to the Wizards a couple of nights later it was without Giannis Antetokounmpo so we’re not holding that against them. The other interesting thing out of the win over Houston: How well Eric Bledsoe did on James Harden. Yes, Harden had 42 points on 30 shots, but Bledsoe made him work for his buckets and that bodes well for the Bucks heading into the postseason. Milwaukee has 7-of-9 on the road coming up.

Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (30-14, LW 5). The reports of the troubles/demise of Golden State have been greatly exaggerated — despite the injuries, lack of depth, infighting and everything else they currently have the best record in the West. They took control of the conference with an emphatic win over Denver, a game that was a reminder of how good they can be. Friday night against the Clippers the DeMarcus Cousins experiment begins and should be one of the more interesting stories of the second half of the season (when you hear rumors of the Warriors’ interest in Robin Lopez on the buyout market, that’s really just Cousins insurance, nobody knows how this is going to go).

Pacers small icon 4. Pacers (29-13, LW 3). Myles Turner returned from injury against Phoenix Tuesday, which was good news because their defense when he was out was not the same — and the Pacers are second in the NBA in defensive rating. It’s a credit to coach Nate McMillan how well he has this team defending, that end of the floor has become their calling card. Indiana went 3-2 on a recent road trip but the losses were to Toronto and Boston, two of the other teams at the top of the East, and that’s a cause for some concern.

Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (29-14, LW 7).. Will Barton is back in the lineup — he played in just the first two games of the season before injuring his groin — and that is a big boost for Denver and it’s wing depth and rotation. Just ignore the Warriors game, Golden State does that to teams a couple times a season, except that it was another rough defensive outing. While the Nuggets on the season have a top-10 NBA defense, that has slid to the second worst in the NBA in their last 10 games. The defensive slippage has been covered up because Nikola Jokic can do things like this.

Rockets small icon 6. Rockets (25-18, LW 4). Clint Capela is out 4-6 weeks with an injured right thumb, and the pressure just mounted even more on James Harden — he responded with 57 points in the first game without Capela, but can he sustain this? The Rockets are 3-3 in their last six with an elite offense covering up for a bottom-10 defense, and that defense is not likely to improve with Capela out. Look for Daryl Morey to try and find some help at the five because the only real center on the roster now is Nene and he can give them maybe 15 minutes a night, tops.

Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (26-17, LW 6). The Thunder have the best defense in the NBA on the season, allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com stats), but in the last five game that has slipped to 119.7 per 100 (28th in the league in that stretch). While teams have bad runs of games over the course of 82, the Thunder are built on defense and they can’t afford for the defensive issues to last much longer, or there will be more ugly losses like Tuesday’s one to Atlanta.

Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (29-16, LW 10). Philadelphia is 20-10 since trading for Jimmy Butler, and the way the Sixers looked and the way the Timberwolves rolled over in that game Butler looked prophetic. That said, all is not just puppy dogs and rainbows with the Sixers — After an Embiid-less loss at home to the lowly Hawks, Ben Simmons called his team out as soft (Atlanta was the more physical team in that game). That Simmons would go there speaks to the struggles still going on trying to get Butler/Embiid/Simmons on the same page.

Celtics small icon 9. Celtics (25-18, LW 9). Terry Rosier said this week this team is “too talented” and that has been a popular theory — too many mouths to feed, too many players who want touches and shots, and it leads to a crowded rotation and guys pushing for larger roles. Is it too much talent or that talent not fitting together? The Celtics can rise up and look like one of the best in the East — they did it in the win over Indiana — but they don’t consistently. Brad Stevens also needs to be thinking about who will be in his 8/9-man playoff rotation, and which current rotation guys (likely Robert Williams, Daniel Theis, and Semi Ojeleye, maybe others) will be relegated to the bench.

Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (26-19, LW 11). The Blazers are 18-7 at home and have a +7.1 net rating, but get on the road and they are 8-12 with a -5.1 net rating. The problems are on both ends of the court, the offense is 5.4 per 100 worse on the road and the defense is 6.8 per 100 worse. We saw it recently in action, the Blazers won four in a row at home then got out of Portland and promptly lost two straight. The Blazers have five more road than home games the rest of the way (but a relatively easy strength of schedule(.

Jazz small icon 11. Jazz (24-21, LW 14). The Jazz look like themselves again winning four in a row, 6-of-7, and they have allowed less than a point per possession in that stretch (best in the NBA). Utah has moved into a tie for the eighth seed in the Wes. Granted, this run has come against a softer part of the schedule (something that ends this week with the Clippers, Trail Blazers, and Nuggets), but the Jazz have the second-easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way and the easiest of any team in the West. Utah is starting to look like a playoff team again.

Spurs small icon 12. Spurs (25-20, LW 8). Last Thursday’s dramatic double-overtime win against the Thunder — where LaMarcus Aldridge scored 56 — was a signature win for San Antonio. And, if that’s all you saw of them you’d say they were surging. However, they have dropped 3-of-4, including splitting that home-and-home with OKC. The Spurs’ defense, which has carried the team this season, is bottom 10 in their last 5 games, while the offense has been pedestrian. The Spurs may be coming back to earth a little bit, they need to get their defense right and start winning some road games against the West (3-12 so far).

Kings small icon 13. Kings (23-21, LW 17). Rookie Marvin Bagley III is back in the rotation after missing 11 games and is starting to find his form again. Bagley has played fairly well, averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds a night off the bench before he got injured (it’s just in this rookie class those numbers get overshadowed). Coach Dave Joerger needs to get Bagley some run and bring him along, the No. 2 pick is a big part of the Kings’ future. Sacramento has won four in a row at home, but now heads out on the road for their next six.

Clippers small icon 14. Clippers (24-19, LW 12). The Clippers have regressed to the mean recently, having lost three in a row and 7-of-8. In those last 15 games the Clippers have had a top-10 offense — with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell providing a big spark off the bench — but a bottom 10 defense. The Clippers will be the focus of the NBA universe Friday night because DeMarcus Cousins makes his return against them — we all want to see Boban Marjanović matched up against him. Doc Rivers needs to make that happen.

Lakers small icon 15. Lakers (24-21, LW 13). Los Angeles has gone 4-7 since LeBron James’ groin injury, sliding down to a tie for the final playoff spot in the West, and with some ugly games in there — the loss to Cleveland at home was their worst loss of the season. Two things to be concerned about if you’re a Laker fan: 1) This recent run of games really did not help the “we can trade these guys for Anthony Davis” cause (although Brandon Ingram, when he’s facilitating still shows promise); 2) The Lakers have the second toughest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way. With LeBron back they should be able to handle it and make the playoffs, but it’s not going to be easy.

Heat small icon 16. Heat (21-21, LW 15). The unlikely backcourt of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson has started to find some chemistry, they had big games in the wins against the Celtics and Grizzlies recently, and the Heat have won 10-of-15 with them running the show (although it’s a top-10 defense that has really carried the Heat through this stretch). The loss in Milwaukee Tuesday was the first of 6-of-7 on the road as Miami enters a rough patch of the schedule.

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (21-23, LW 20). New Orleans finally has Elfrid Payton and Nikola Mirotic back in the rotation after extended absences due to injury, they have gone 2-1 in those games and looked much improved. Their return came at the right time, if New Orleans is going to make a playoff push — read: have any shot at all of keeping Anthony Davis — they need to survive a tough January schedule the rest of the way, with 5-of-7 on the road and much of that against West playoff teams. The Pelicans have the fourth toughest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way.

Nets small icon 18. Nets (22-23, LW 19). Before the season it was expected that Brooklyn would be out of the playoff mix and with some expiring contracts — DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley, Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried — and they would be sellers at the trade deadline. But the scrappy Nets, who play hard and take smart shots, have turned their team of journeymen into the seven seed in the West with a real shot at the playoffs. With that, the fire sale is off and Brooklyn is one of the feel-good stories of the season.

19. Timberwolves (21-23, LW 16). Coming out flat against Philadelphia was ugly — they made Jimmy Butler look prophetic about Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins by showing no fire in that game. This team shows flashes — KAT was blocking Anthony Davis at the end of a win over the Pelicans — but they don’t defend or take smart shots with any consistency. Ryan Saunders is 2-2 as a coach and there are people rooting for him to do well enough to keep this job, but he has a lot of work ahead of him to just get more every night out of this roster.

Mavericks small icon 20. Mavericks (20-23, LW 21). Why are the Mavericks shopping Dennis Smith Jr.? Because, while his shooting has improved this season, he simply has not fit with Luka Doncic (and Doncic is the future). Smith as part of the regular starting five for Dallas scores less than a point per possession, sub rookie Jaylen Brunson in for Smith and that lineup’s offense gets 16 points per 100 possessions better. Smith is incredibly athletic and should have value on the trade market, but with every other team knowing both Dallas and Smith want to part ways, it’s going to be hard to get anywhere near fair value.

Magic small icon 21. Magic (19-24, LW 24).
Another team many around the league expected to be a seller at the deadline, but after back-to-back victories over Boston and Houston, the Magic are just a game out of the playoffs in the East and are more likely to make a push for it rather than tank. The key to making the playoffs will be more of the Aaron Gordon who showed up against Boston and Houston, scoring 28 and 22 points in those games, shooting a combined 51.7 percent, and getting to the free throw line. Orlando needs Gordon to be aggressive and the catalyst for the offense.

Hornets small icon 22. Hornets (20-23, LW 18). Charlotte wants to make the playoffs this season, owner Michael Jordan wants to make the playoffs, and their recent 2-4 road trip did not help that cause (although the Hornets remain a game ahead of Orlando for the eight seed). The bigger problem is they miss Cody Zeller, he has been out seven games (2-5) and in those games the Hornets have the third worst defense in the NBA. They need to get some stops over the next few weeks because Kemba Walker’s heroics alone are not enough to get them into the playoffs.

Wizards small icon 23. Wizards (18-26, LW 25). They beat the 76ers. They beat the Bucks. They took the Raptors to double overtime. Forget about tanking and selling off players, the Wizards are playing better and, with the third easiest schedule the rest of the way the Wizards are thinking playoffs. The Wizards are 5-4 with a +3.2 net rating since John Wall left the team due to injury, there is more balance on the offense and Bradley Beal is attacking the rim more than we’ve seen in years. Despite their horrid start to the season and injuries, the Wizards are just 2.5 games out of the playoffs and stranger things have happened.

Pistons small icon 24. Pistons (18-24, 22). Blake Griffin’s 44-point performance against the Los Angeles Clippers Saturday night was a classic revenge game — he even blew off Steve Ballmer (maybe) — and a great reminder of how good Griffin can be. It’s also the Pistons’ only win in their last six games, the team continues to struggle offensively (bottom 5 in the league over the last 10 games). The Pistons have 7-of-10 at home and if they are going to make a playoff push it needs to come now.

Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (14-30, LW 26). The Hawks have quietly gone 8-7 in their last 15 games, with an average NBA offense and a just slightly below average defense in that stretch. That included a 142-126 win over Oklahoma City. Rookie point guard Trae Young has started to show some chemistry with Kevin Huerter,, and the Thunder found out about that the hard way.

Grizzlies small icon 26. Grizzlies (19-24, LW 23). Unexpected stat: The Grizzlies lead the NBA in passes per game, averaging 342.1. Unfortunately, that does not correlate directly to winning, the Grizzlies have gone 3-13 in their last 16, have slid out of the playoffs, and their next four games are the Bucks, Celtics, Raptors, and Pelicans. If the losing continues for another week or two, and with Marc Gasol a free agent this summer, will we finally see Memphis talk trade and break up their core? Other teams are watching, but if they didn’t do it this summer would they now?

Suns small icon 27. Suns (11-34, LW 27). Kelly Oubre Jr. is starting to find a comfort level in the Valley of the Sun, averaging 17.6 points per game on 50.8 shooting in his last five games. That said, the offense continues to struggle if Devin Booker is not on the floor, and that lack of consistent offense keeps them from winning games (although they are competitive most nights, they are not just rolling over).

Knicks small icon 28. Knicks (10-33, LW 29). It will be February before we get an update, but if the rumors are true that the Knicks want to hold Kristaps Porzingis out all season — against his wishes — then that is the kind of short-sighted things that leads to broken relationships. (This is providing there is not a good medical reason to keep KP out.) Only one game this week as the NBA decided to promote its game by sending the Knicks and Wizards over to London for a Thursday game (don’t they have enough problems over there with Brexit without us making them watch that excuse for basketball?).

Bulls small icon 29. Bulls (10-34, LW 28). Chicago has lost eight in a row, but Bulls management wants to show it’s committed to the old-school ways of coach Jim Boylen by giving him a raise this season and next (they had lost six in a row when that news leaked). Boylen is now 5-15 as head coach. When you’re losing like that, experimenting with Lauri Markkanen at the three — as Boylen wants to do — is worth trying.

Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (9-35, LW 30). the Cavaliers snapped their 12 game losing streak thanks to the LeBron-less Lakers. One bright spot, Matthew Dellavedova has played like a solid pro for the Cavaliers off the bench providing some steady play their bench units can use. Beyond that… here’s a Zion Williamson highlight to dream about.

Luke Walton says he talks regularly with Magic Johnson: ‘It’s been good’

Getty Images
1 Comment

Back on Oct. 30, Magic Johnson chewed out Luke Walton for the Lakers’ 2-5 start.

Magic is a little like that boss we’ve all had who is around a handful of days a month but swoops in like he knows everything and offers edicts. Still, the rebuke reverberated. Magic and GM Rob Pelinka did not hire Walton, he’s not their guy, and the buzz around the league for a while has been that the front office would replace Walton with someone a little more old-school/hard-a** if they could (but owner Jeanie Buss stands in the way).

Walton pushed back on that idea in an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic.

“It’s been good,” he said of the relationship with Magic. “Honestly, it has. …Anytime I call him, he calls back within an hour or two, and we talk hoops. He wants to win, and I want to win. So as far as that (goes), we’re all trying to do the same thing, and I don’t feel like he’s trying to move me out of there.

“We definitely talked about (the Oct. 30 meeting). Me and him, one on one. We one hundred percent have moved forward from it. I don’t think it has changed anything. We still – it’s still the ultimate goal, and there’s time when I’ll call him or go sit in his office and pick his brain on what he’s seeing and what kind of suggestions he might have. But there’s no – what’s the word – discomfort. I don’t walk in there, and it’s like ‘F***, I’ve got to go talk to Magic.’ Like, I have no problem going in and sitting down with him and talking about what’s going on without thinking about that at all.”

Walton has the young Lakers defending well — eighth in the NBA on the season, fourth since LeBron James went down. The offense has been an issue without LeBron, but is that on Walton or the fact Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram are not stepping up consistently?

Walton has done a good job as the Laker coach.

Which leads to the real question for anyone who wants Walton out: Who are you getting that’s better? There are maybe five coaches around the NBA who are difference makers, who can get a team wins just by their system and presence. The Lakers aren’t going to be able to hire Gregg Popovich or Rick Carlise or any of the others, and if they are not getting one of those handful of elite guys — who all already have jobs — then they are getting another guy who is good but goes as his talent goes. Which is Walton. Which again leads to the “why are you doing this?” question. It’s like Sacramento firing Mike Malone while DeMarcus Cousins was out and blaming the losing streak. (How is Malone doing in Denver, by the way?)

Of course, the real test for if Walton is back next season: What does LeBron think of him?

If you can answer that, then you know the future.

 

LeBron James ‘progressing’ and increasing ‘basketball movements;’ out at least three more games

Associated Press
4 Comments

LeBron James is “progressing” from the groin injury that has sidelined him for eight games, but he will miss at least three more games, according to the Lakers.

Here is what the team said in its press release:

LeBron James was evaluated by team medical staff and physicians today. The healing of James’ groin injury is progressing and James has been cleared to increase on-court functional basketball movements. A further update will be provided on January 16. 

LeBron will miss at least three more games on that timeline, and it could be more depending upon his return.

On the 16th the Lakers travel to Oklahoma City for a game against the Thunder the next night. That starts one of the toughest stretches of the schedule for Los Angeles, 8-of-12 on the road (although one of those “road” games is the Clippers) against some of the best teams in the NBA. The Lakers could use LeBron back for that.

If he returns for the game in Oklahoma City LeBron will have missed 11 games. That’s the same number Stephen Curry missed earlier this season with a similar groin injury.

LeBron injured his groin on Christmas Day against Golden State, and the Lakers have gone 3-5 without LeBron in this stretch, sliding down to the eighth seed in the crowded West. Los Angeles has continued to defend well (6th best in the NBA in the last eight) but the offense has fallen off to third worst in the league. Things have been particularly bad without LeBron James in the clutch (within 5 points in the final 5 minutes of a game), when the Lakers have scored less than a point per possession. Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball have not stepped up as the leaders on offense that the Lakers had hoped with LeBron out.

Three Things to Know: Harden gets his 42 but Bucks, Antetokounmpo will take the win

Associated Press
3 Comments

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) James Harden’s 42 not enough, Milwaukee make a statement with win in Houston. Can you say you did a good job defending a guy who scored 42 points on 30 shots?

Milwaukee can make a good case. Or, at least the Bucks can say they enough to keep the superhuman James Harden from beating them on Wednesday night. Harden got his points, but he also had 9 turnovers to 6 assists, plus after Harden led the charge to get a 15-point Buck lead down to three late, Harden went 0-of-4 in the clutch. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo was making plays like this to seal the win.

This was billed as an MVP showdown between Harden and Antetokounmpo, although one January game is not going to decide the award. Harden got his with that 42 and was making plays. But the Greek Freak had 27 points and a career-high 21 boards, playing a more physical and well-rounded game, including strong defense. Antetokounmpo also had five assists, although this is the pass that had everyone talking.

While the Greek Freak gets the headlines, the key to snapping Houston’s 10-game home win streak was Brook Lopez.

Lopez only had 7 points, but he was vital on the defensive end. Bucks defenders — Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, others — slid alongside Harden on his left side when the Beard drove, those defenders trying to funnel him to Lopez, who cut off the drives and used his size to block (4) and alter shots. Harden had 9 turnovers, and Lopez was able to recover well enough to force the normally efficient Clint Capela into a 4-of-16 shooting night (he had help there).

The MVP race was not decided Wednesday (not that it was ever going to be), but the Bucks made a “you better take us seriously” statement on national television.

2) Is Kyle Kuzma the Lakers’ second best player? He drops career-high 41 on Pistons. This season for the Lakers was about seeing who was their second best player and who could step up in big moments. More accurately, the goal was to see which of the young Lakers was ready to be on the big stage and could adapt to playing next to LeBron James.

It hasn’t been Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram, not consistently. With LeBron still sidelined with a groin strain, the two guys the Lakers drafted No. 2 and expected to step up were off again, combining to score 15 points on 16 shots.

Kyle Kuzma — a decisive, attacking scorer — has emerged as the second best Laker and the guy who has thrived next to LeBron (at least on offense). Wednesday night he attacked Blake Griffin off the dribble to get to the rim and finish (8-of-8 in the restricted area), knocked down threes from the left wing, and had 41 points to lead the Lakers to a 113-100 win over the Pistons.

Kuzma’s 41 was the most points by a Laker who played fewer than 30 minutes in the shot clock era. Kuzma did all his work in three quarters.

The Lakers have some roster issues to address this offseason, but they know that Kuzma fits as part of their short-term future with LeBron.

3) Celtics rout tired Pacers team and impress doing it. Sometimes the NBA schedule maker provides you a win — five of the six NBA teams on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday lost by double digits. Count the Pacers among that group.

Indiana is one of the better defensive teams in the league, but on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday night in Boston they were flat and could not slow an attacking, aggressive Celtics team. “It just looked like we were gassed tonight,” is how Pacers’ coach Nate McMillan put it after the game.

Boston took full advantage scoring a season-high 135 points. It was a balanced attack with seven players in double digits, and the Celtics had their most well-rounded game of the season. Jayson Tatum was putting up the highlights.

It’s a quality win for Boston against one of the other top teams in the East. They should just give an assist to the schedule maker.